2011 Mini All4 Countryman
Date Posted: July 16, 2011
By Zack Spencer
This Mini isn't so mini. With four doors and a usable hatchback design, this new Mini crossover is a blast to drive
I can clearly remember attending the Detroit auto show, running from one unveiling to another, and looking at the program to see where I could take a break. Mini was showing the Countryman 4-door crossover and I decided to pass saying, ''let me guess, it will look like a Mini?'' Well it does-- and it is a Mini through and through but one with a whole different take on the compact crossover. Sitting long and low, the Countryman opens up the Mini brand to a whole new set of potential buyers looking for a sporty coossover. With so many compact crossovers entering the market year after year, including premium models like the new BMW X1, Mini has some serious competition and just being a larger Mini might not be enough.
''Let me guess, it will look like a Mini'' is part of the problem with any retro inspired brand. All the new products that Mini introduces have to look similar to the original and even more like the modern models. These constraints can only move the brand along for so long before the whole idea of Mini has to be reinvented. That time is still years away as Mini can still grow into different categories. With this is mind, the designers have done a fantastic job of taking the hugely successful Copper, adding two extra doors, growing the vehicle in every direction but still making it cohesive. There are three Countryman to choose from including the base model, then the S Countryman and the S All4 Countryman seen here. With each model the exterior is tweaked to include extra body cladding, different wheels and trim accents. Prices start at $27,850 and fully loaded models can easily get over $40,000.
This Mini isn't so mini. All four seats have plenty of room, including legroom, headroom and hip room. The high cabin and loads of windows makes driving or riding inside very open and comfortable. There is no bench seat in the back, only two bucket seats separated by a centre rail for clipping in accessories like cup holders and sunglass holders. This idea is refreshing but limits the vehicles practicality for family use. Children will have to climb over the centre rail or enter the car from the road, plus three children cannot fit into the back. This style over function is only limited to the back seat because the cargo space is very practical. On a recent trip to Home Depot I was able to fold the rear seats and load many large items with room to spare. Front passengers are welcomed by a dizzying array of buttons and toggle switches reminiscent of the original Mini. The retro dash might look cool but it is anything but easy to use, at least initially.
Bigger doesn't mean that Mini's DNA isn't intact. In fact this compact crossover has the edge over many competitors on the performance and handling front, making this a true Mini. The base model is equipped with a 1.6L 4-cylinder producing 121hp and Mini claims a run to 100km/h will take 10.5 seconds. The S Countryman is the crossover of choice for performance drivers, with its turbocharged motor pumping out 181hp and capable of 0-100km/h in 7.0 seconds. There can be some torque steer under hard acceleration and the large wheels on my test unit grabbed ruts in the road but overall the handling is very surefooted and inspires the driver with its connected feel. The all wheel drive system called All4 is only offered on the top model for roughly $1800 more. With the ability to transfer torque on-demand to either the front or rear axle, provides traction and improved handling compared to the base model.
The Countryman will never be a mainstream crossover like the Honda CR-V or Hyundai Tucson. No, this is a niche vehicle for Mini buyers that want something bigger and more practical. The S All4 Countryman can get very expensive and becomes a purchase based more on styling and passion, than value for money. The model seen here is fully loaded and comes in at over $45,000. In comparison, the all-new BMW X1 is slightly larger, is faster and has more power for roughly the same price. Mini or BMW, it's a hard decision. Most buyers will likely choose the more modest Countryman models and be happy enjoying all that the Mini brand comes to represent, including a less stuffy image than BMW, at a lower price. Coming into this test drive I thought the Countryman was a gimmick but after driving it for a while, it is a surprisingly fun and practical crossover, plus it looks cool.
The Good, The Bad
Surprisingly roomy, practical and fun to drive.
The centre accessory rail limits rear seat access and the Countryman can get expensive quickly.
Power: 1.6L 4-cylinder with 121hp or turbo 4-cylinder with 181hp
Fill-up: 7.8L/6.1L/100km (city/highway S model)
Sticker price: $27,850-$34,400